My Terra Cotta Pot Smoker Woes Solved

Discussion in 'Electric Smokers' started by sin, Aug 13, 2007.

  1. sin

    sin Fire Starter

    I have one of those Alton Brown terra cotta pot smokers that you can make with an electric hot plate, two terra cotta planter pots, a replacement grill grate and a heavy duty pie pan. However, I haven't been able to make it work properly, at all.

    I found out the hot plate, a Walgreen's 1,000 watt Kitchen Gourmet hot plate ($10) , shuts off after being turned on for about 20 minutes. The reason? It overheats internally, and shuts off via thermal shutoff. So, how can I use it to smoke and BBQ my food? I think I have the solution.

    I looked over the rheostat when I opened it up. When I would turn on the switch, two small, thin pieces of metal would come together. They each had a copper colored 'dome' that would touch when on. I noticed the copper domes were separated when the switch was off. So, it got me thinking about the third heavy metal piece above them that had a large white plastic peg that was very near one of the two thinner pieces of metal. I pushed it down, and sure enough, the plastic white peg pushed the two thinner pieces of metal apart. Ah hah! I found my thermal switch! I tested it with a 175 watt solder gun. I place it on the third piece of metal, and sure enough, it bent and caused the two metal pieces to separate once it got very hot!

    So, I bent that piece of metal farther away, and sure enough, when I heated it up again, it didn't separate the two thinner pieces of metal. Thermal shutoff switch bypassed!

    Now, I don't have a problem with it shutting down on me. Here's a drawing I made of it for illustration.


    I haven't tried it yet. That's next. I have to be careful, now, not to overheat and destroy the burner. I'll start with a medium setting, and work my way up to 210 degrees. I think the burner can handle that temperature without melting or becoming damaged.
  2. bbq bubba

    bbq bubba Master of the Pit OTBS Member could get an electric Brinkman at Depot for $49.00[​IMG]
  3. sin

    sin Fire Starter

  4. crewdawg52

    crewdawg52 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Plus, I bet, you can smoke meat in the Brinkman....
  5. navionjim

    navionjim Smoking Fanatic OTBS Member

    So, I bent that piece of metal farther away, and sure enough, when I heated it up again, it didn't separate the two thinner pieces of metal. Thermal shutoff switch bypassed!

    Am I missing something? Safety features bypassed? Do you put pennies in the fuse slots too? No offense but there are reasons they put design safety features into products......
  6. sin

    sin Fire Starter

    You can smoke meat in the pot smoker, too. Gee, where's all this, 'pot smoker hate' coming from? [​IMG]

    The worse that could happen is the unit melting. That's it. If that happens, I'd have to throw out the meat and purchase a different burner. There's no other concern for alarm.

    But, before that could happen, I would test the unit for the proper setting as to not cause it to overheat. I figure, 220 degrees. Remember, I still have a on/off switch and temperature control settings. Bypassing the thermal safety wont be a big concern since I don't plan to let it overheat. And, if it does, not big deal since it only cost $10.

    Do you think maybe you're making a too big of a deal out of this? I think you are. But, I see where you're coming from. Safety first.
  7. bbq bubba

    bbq bubba Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    No big deal, No "pot smoker hate", just razzing ya, you guys in Cali like your clay pot's but we even talked Brennan into a real smoker, please don't take it wrong, alot of that goin around lately, i just think you would be much happier and learn a lot more with at least a starter ECB or even a weber kettle, keep that pot smokin and maybe throw us some pic's[​IMG]
  8. sin

    sin Fire Starter

    I know you guys are just razzing me. It's all in good fun. I know nobody really has any bad feelings for 'pot smokers.' Look what happened to Clinton. [​IMG]

    So, Brennan 'turned to the dark side of the force,' eh? *sigh* It's a shame when a fellow Jedi goes bad.
  9. spotcheem

    spotcheem Newbie

    I also made a clay pot smoker using a single electric burner from Harbor Freight.

    The very first thing I did was to separate the heating element part from the sheet metal base, which has that exact same rheostat control. I also added two heat proof wires to allow me to have the control part outside of the clay pot, ( and also away from heat).

    It became, essentially fool-proof, other than judging how much wood to use per "charge", and also how much wood to use in all for the total cooking time. 

    My first pork shoulder turned out great, my first whole chicken was WAY over smoked. Not over cooked, just way too smokey!

    I guess I will continue to experiment!

    I want to try pork ribs or a beef brisket, but I am a little tentative to screw up a large hunk of meat.

  10. reardenreturns

    reardenreturns Smoke Blower SMF Premier Member

    Speaking of terra cotta.... I always have a problem finding a place to fire up a chimney starter, but solved it using a terra cotta round planter base. It absorbs the heat, protects the ground and has a lip to contain the ash. I just put it on the ground, put the chimney on it, fill with natural lump charcoal and fire it up.. works every time!
  11.  A simple way to bypass the thermostatic control would be to have unhooked the two wires (one going to each of the

    contacts) and just jump them together which is all the switch does in order to turn it on. Or else you could bring out a wire from

    each contact and hook them to a regular switch then when this added switch is "on" you bypass the thermostat and when

    it is "off" the thermostat would control it as normal.

  12. spotcheem

    spotcheem Newbie


    I'm not sure why you would want to bypass the thermostat control?

    On my clay pot smoker, I use the thermostat control to regulate the temperature inside the clay pot, which I monitor with a thermometer in the top of the clay pot.

    If you jump the two wires together, doesn't that result in the element being "fully on", with no control?

    Mine seems to hold temperature at 217 degrees for long periods of time at just below the "Medium" setting on the dial.

    It is almost fool-proof, with the exception of knowing how much wood to use per "charge", and what the total amount of wood should be.

  13. leodavis1

    leodavis1 Newbie

    I had the same problem --- this is my hack

  14. leodavis1

    leodavis1 Newbie

  15. michael ark

    michael ark Master of the Pit

    You can go to a hvac supply and get a adjustable temp limit too kick it on and off.[​IMG]
  16. jms7

    jms7 Newbie

    We made this exact same terra cotta smoker and used it today for the first time. The wood we used, apple wood chunks, flared up pretty bad. We just tossed the chunks in the cast iron box without soaking them. Is this why it flared up? Ive also been reading that we need some sort of drip pan. Any help would be appreciated. 
  17. sprky

    sprky Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    This is interesting. 
  18. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    JM, evening..... Wood chunks flaring up ???  (into a fire type flare up ???)  Is caused from putting more than 1 chunk into the pan at a time.... For thin blue smoke, you only need 1 chunk at a time....

    A good point to remember is, "It takes 2 pieces of wood to make a fire".  As long as the pan is not "screaming hot" 1 chunk will only smolder and not catch fire...... Dave
  19. jms7

    jms7 Newbie

    Hi Dave, Thanks for the reply. This was our first ever smoke. We filled the cast iron box with chunks. Pretty much jammed in as many as we could. The reason we did this is we figured this would last a longer in terms of smoking thus preventing us from having to open the lid and place new chunks in. 

    Here is what we used...

    When you say 1 chunk at a time, are you referring to these size chunks or larger? Is the rule of thumb to use one chunk per so many hours of smoking?

    We have the pan sitting on the electric coils so it gets pretty hot. The internal temp of the smoker reached about 250 which we had to turn down. 

  20. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    JM, morning.... Yes, 1 chunk will provide plenty of smoke... If it is the size of a golf ball, you could put 2 chunks in the pan, as long as they are not closer than 1" or so to each other.... side by slde they will probably burst into flame at some point...  One of those chunks in your picture should provide smoke for an hour or maybe even 2....  To get sweet tasting smoke you do not even have to see the smoke, only smell it....  Try a test run without food in the smoker.... Put in one chunk, flat side to the heat source and let her go, as you would if you were smoking some meat...

    The term "Thin Blue Smoke" was coined by folks who have studied the flavor or their product and deteremined, quantity of smoke is the important factor in good smoke flavor....

    The photo below is of the smoke emitting from my MES.... That is a fair representation of what TBS is meant to look like... In my Big Chief Clone, I have used slices from branches of trees for a wood source for quite awhile... I call them cookies.... they smoke very consistently and for a long time... better than chips...  Give it a try and let us know how it went... Pictures would be cool too....  Have a good test session...   Dave


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